Friday, March 29, 2013

Ask Me Anything: Evil

This? This is Baphomet.
He is known by many names and is NOT evil.
I was recently asked by a reader to explain how I think about the nature of evil. This came on the heels of an interesting Facebook discussion on a fellow blogger's page about the same subject. So I have been mulling it over.

I do not believe evil is a force of its own in the world- like the way many Christians see "the devil" or the way many prefer to label those that murder, rape or commit acts of atrocity. It is never so simple or easy. The truth is much more awkward and uncomfortable. The scary fact is, we are ALL capable of horror- and it is up to us to cultivate ethics and compassion in ourselves and others as a culture to prevent such terrible acts. It is easy and convenient to distance yourself from acts of "evil" that others do- and I am sure it makes folks sleep better at night to do so.

Most things we tend to classify as "evil" tend to fall into two camps: 1. things that we are frightened of and do not understand and 2. disconnected beings who commit great atrocities.

Camp Number One:
There are entities that I have encountered out there who are not exactly fun "love and light" beings. I would become their snack if they had their way. Some cultures and religions call them demons or other similar names.

Does that make them evil? No. It makes them predators.

Do we villianize lions, orcas, or preying mantis' for their actions in the world? Of course not. That is because we understand their place in the world and have taken pains to remove ourselves (for the most part) from their predations. The same is true for "demons" or whatever you want to call them. I am sure that they have a role to play, we simply do not understand it. Does that make them any less scary? Hell no. Will I ward, blast, and defend myself and mine from them. Oh you betcha.

Camp Number Two:
People who commit mass murders and torture others and rape fall into that second category- and frankly, those people scare me more than the things that go bump in the night. Because a disconnected person is dangerous. They have no empathy, no conscience. They can do great evil because of their disconnection, and it is very hard, if not impossible, to connect someone like that to the All-There-Is. This effect is sadly contagious- and many disconnected people together can cause wars, genocide and more. And this disconnection is our fault- not just theirs. We all create culture together- and we are only as strong, compassionate, and affluent as the weakest, alienated, poor person in our society.

How do you see evil? How do we overcome it?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Raising a Boy

He has been taught from an early age
that men are nurturing, too.
When I was pregnant, I assumed (until an early ultrasound told me differently) that I was carrying a girl. And I was really excited about that- training another strong woman to carry on my tradition of Witchcraft and cunning sounded like a wonderful thing. And then that little lump of flesh (called a penis) on the ultrasound really stunned me.

I must admit, I am now embarrassed and shamed at my very visceral adverse reaction to bearing a boy child (at least we think he;s a boy child- he keeps changing his mind between boy, girl, and goblin). I am not a separatist, nor am I a Dianic Witch (although I dabbled briefly with that path).

I believe that all sexes have value. I was grateful to that ultrasound, because it helped me get my shit together before Rowan arrived- so I could welcome him with all my heart and love him for who he is, regardless of genitalia, chromosomes, or (what will develop later) identity.

And I am happy to say that Rowan is an amazing human being and I would not have any other child, regardless of genitals, in his place. Every need I somehow had in my head about having a daughter has been filled by him, and then some. Rowan is mine and also his own- a truly unique individual who is not defined by his junk any more than I am.

Pink fuzzy sweater and a pigtail?
Why yes, please.
But raising a boy presents its own cultural challenges. I believe in raising kids as free as possible from kyriarchical standards (or what I have called the "Gender Agenda" in previous posts). And when raising a boy, you have many many people laying assumptions down on how to raise that boy so that they live up to the privileges and expectations that society dumps on them.* There is a lot of influence that I will have on him, but I fear about the messages he will ultimately get from others who would pigeonhole him into a role not of his own choosing.

For example, there's the issue with Rowan's appearance. 

We allow him to choose his own clothes, hair, and accessories. We believe and are teaching him that his body is his own and he can adorn it any way he likes. No one has the right to do things to his body, including dressing him in drab**, that he does not consent to.

Uniquely Rowan.
Much to his Pap Pap's chagrin, he has chosen sparkles, colors like pink and purple, rainbows, long hair, and glitter. And who can blame him? His mama is part magpie, so why wouldn't he be? He choses not to cut his hair (and believe me we ask him weekly if he wants to cut it- since he hates having it brushed). His hair is down to his butt and is most often pulled back into a utilitarian ponytail and often has barrettes in it to keep the shorter front pieces from getting gross from food. They make most barrettes in "girl colors" and "girl designs". (Rowan does not mind having multi-colored butterflies in his hair at all, but what about kids that do not like such "girly" things? Where are the gender neutral barrettes for kids- like dinosaurs?)  In related feelings, I hate that we assign gender to inanimate objects, colors, and patterns. It sucks.)

A Beltaine outfit
of his own choosing.
His choices lead him to be "girled" a lot. Our family, including Rowan, don't actually care. But the reactions we get from people being corrected range for horror to shame to confusion. And this perplexes Rowan enough to comment on it. "They think I'm a girl, mommy." "Yes, they do." I reply.  "Do you think you are a girl?" "No", he says. "I'm a little boy." Fair enough.

But it should also be noted that sometimes he tells me that he wants to grow up and be a lady like mommy. And some days he wants to have a beard like daddy. And the fact that he doesn't know or has made up his mind is fine by us. But it squicks a lot of people out. I bet that this phase is probably far more natural than in the children that had their gender chosen for them and forced to wear, say, and act certain things to reinforce their parent's idea of what a boy or girl "is".

Then there is the culture of violence that we force upon boy children. 

When we go to playgrounds, inevitably we run into boys playing war games with toy guns. It disturbs me that violence is considered fun and I have mentioned this to Rowan. He doesn't seem to like this kind of play either- because he always tells those boys "Go away! I don't like to play that." I don't know if this is a simple projection of me and my distaste, coming from him and his dislike, or a combination of the two. But I will NOT train my son that hurting or killing people is a fun game. We will not have video games like that in our home (ever) and we carefully screen his media intake. It seems like here in Ohio, almost all boys are all taught killing is fun from a young age. I like to think that I am giving Rowan more options in how to become a man (if he choses to be one). When his Pap Pap says, "He's a boy!" as if that objection to long hair makes sense, we tell him, "Yes he is a boy with long hair. There is more than one way to be a little boy." (And frankly, if you think there is only one way to be a boy or man I feel sorry for you.)

Some days he's a boy.
Sometimes he's a girl.
Somedays, he's a goblin or robot.
But he's ALWAYS shiny.
In the wake of the Steubenville and Indian rape cases, I have been thinking a lot about how to raise a boy in this culture- one that I personally am often horrified by. And to me, the answer is mostly - you don't. My son is not being raised steeped IN this culture, but alongside it. His parents often reject what society has deemed of value- and we are teaching him to value things like autonomy, freedom, responsibility, friendship and kin, and love over things like money and acquisition, domination, control and force, and the fleeting futility of "identity".

With a preschooler, the messages and steps we take look like this:

He has strict media limits.

No one, especially corporate interests, are going to tell my son how he should be. I limit "screen time" to 2 hours a day and even then- it does not happen *every* day. He never watches actual TV (with commercials and news breaks) in my home, but instead watches educational streaming video instead (no commercials, only approved programs). It may sound over-the-top to some parents, but a recent study has found that carefully curating what preschoolers and younger watch determines their aggression level. So Rowan picks from Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, Super Why, Curious George, Dinosaur Train, Word Girl, Dora the Explorer, and Go Diego Go, mostly. And still, there have been subtle messages in some of those programs that I disagree with and we talk about what we see together. He has no filters at this age- so I must help him do that. He also watches nature documentaries. He also only watches movies when mama and daddy is there to have dialogue with him about what he is seeing. Recently, he saw Wreck It Ralph and Despicable Me. We had talks about bullies, "bad guys", and being nice. In both movies, the "bad guy" turns out to be a good guy. So Rowan has been talking a lot about that lately.

He hears commercials on the music station that we listen to in the car sometimes. And I help him filter those messages, too. "They are talking about that because they want you to buy something, Rowan. They paid money to get on the radio to talk to you. They have an agenda- what do you think that agenda is?"

He is being taught that his body is his to with as he chooses.

(But mama and daddy sometimes need to intervene for his health- like making him eat greens or brushing his hair.) I remember applauding Jada Pinkett-Smith when she defended her daughter's right to crop her short and wear "boyish" clothes. Smith talked about how it was her daughter's body and she got to choose what happened to it. What a powerful message for that child to get from a loving parent!

Being a lightening bug
for Halloween.
No one decides for him how to express himself, as long as he is not harming himself or anyone else. So he will decide when to cut his hair, start potty training in earnest, and when he can be tickled or hugged. And we teach him that others get to make these decisions for themselves, too. So he is getting the "no means no" talk, even before his sexual awakening. We even gave daddy a time out once, for tickling without getting consent first (that made Rowan smile really big, to make daddy get a time out!).

And he will get all versions of the "no means no" talk along with the "yes means consequences- good and bad" talk when he does have that awakening. He will be getting sex education that not only has the bad consequences as a scare tactic (pregnancy, STIs) but also what makes a good relationship, what kinds of sex there are, full anatomy disclosure, and more.

In the wake of the Catholic Church and other predations upon children in the news, I am struggling with the loss of innocence that comes as I teach him about secrets, touching, and that not everyone is a nice person. But I know this message will keep him safe- so I have bought a book called "Not every Secret Should be Kept" and we started to talk about keeping safe and talking to mama and daddy about things that happen when we are not around.

We also teach him that affection and touching (as well as expressing his feelings) are wonderful human things to do.

So many men are emotionally stunted because of their conditioning as children. This manifests itself in emotionally unavailable partners and fathers, an obsession with sex (as a replacement for love), and a horrible repetition of the cycle. We strive to have Rowan be fully human- that is, not be limited by what others consider "normal" male behavior. Just as the parents of daughters must struggle with this issue, so must parents of boys- just in different ways.

In what ways have you found raising your kids, especially in regards to gender and culture difficult? What has been easy? What are you doing to educate you children about gender roles and expectations?

*Raising a girl has its own challenges- don't get me wrong. I just knew what I was in for with having a daughter- having been one myself. I was just unprepared for the particulars of raising a boy as a non-kyriarchal feminist household.

** Drab is the costume we give to boys and men in our highly gendered culture- dull colors, less interesting tailoring, less patterns. Drab is the boring version of drag- which is also a gendered costume.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Medicinal Teas

One of the newest products I've added to the Boline store is Medicinal Teas*- I have six varieties to choose from with more formulations on the way. Why would I offer teas? (Well, first off- they aren't actually tea (which is a specific plant)- they are medicinal herbs that you would steep with boiled water to make what we herbalists know as "decoctions" or "infusions".)

They are a fantastic way to get nutrients and medicine into your body! When I am taking a tea as a tonic (meaning that I take some every day to keep it in my system- like with my Preggers Tea- which I used myself when pregnant with Rowan), I often make a huge batch and drink it iced from the fridge.

The teas I offer come in these bags- and inside are fresh,
organic herb blends and an unbleached cotton muslin bag for steeping.

When I am taking a tea for a temporary condition (like Dream Well or Kid Calm tea for insomnia for example), that's when I tend to drink it hot.

Many people are used to drinking tea that comes in prepackaged tea bags, even the medicinal herbal teas. It is much better for you to take loose tea. Sure, you could buy bags of herbal teas that have similar ingredients at the grocery store, but they will not work as well. Why? The main difference between loose teas and tea bags is obviously the size of the leaves. When producing the tea bags, whole leaves are chopped, sliced and diced into small particles ranging from 0.2 to 1.5 millimeters called fanning and dusts. With all this slicing and dicing, the plant compounds interact with moisture and oxygen, leading to rapid quality loss.

Whole leaves contain natural compounds that are good for you and different essential oils which are what we would call the basis of the amazing tea flavor and taste. When the leaves and flowers and roots are broken up, those oils tend to evaporate, leaving the fannings with a dull aroma which will lead to a tasteless beverage.

Further, who knows how long that tea has lived in those bags, in that box, on a shelf somewhere? All of the teas I sell are fresh! So choose fresh (medicinal grade) loose teas!

There are several ways to make yourself a potent decoction. Just making a single cup for yourself? Then I prefer the infusion cup method:
These three cups are mine- all have the mug, an infuser insert,
and a lid. The lid keeps in all the important bits!
The lid is necessary, even if you don't have a cup like this- all the essential oils from the medicines will escape with the steam if you don't cover your infusion. The longer you steep (I do 15-30 minutes, depending on the blend- ones with roots will take longer), the more medicine is in the brew.

There are also other ways to make a small amount:
Unbleached cotton muslin bag (like the ones that come with Boline teas),
tea ball, spoon, infuser, and larger infuser for a larger pot.

Disposable or compostable versions are also available:
These are unbleached paper tea infusion bags.
And of course, there's the ubiquitous tea pot:

If all you have is a mug, you can always heap the herbs into it, pour water over, cap it with a saucer or small plate, and then strain it before drinking. I just tend to drink so often that I have specilty equipment lying about to take pictures of!

What are my favorite herb blends at the moment? Anything with nettles (it is green, yummy and sooooo good for you!, chamomile is lovely when fresh, and I grow lots of peppermint (trying some chocolate mint and pineapple mint this season too).

Currently Boline offers Dream Well (for those of you looking to relax and have productive dreams), Kid Calm (which is for stress, insomnia and anxiety- and safe enough for kids), Preggers Tea (for those expecting), Fertili-Tea (for women trying to conceive), Menopause Tea (for hot flashes and other symptoms and nutritional needs of that phase), and Allergy Tea (for seasonal allergies like hayfever).

Monday, March 11, 2013


Does a caravan turn back from a journey because 
of the barking and clamour of dogs? 
On a luminous night, does the outcry of dogs 
delay the full moon in its course? 
The moon sheds light and 
the dog barks. 
Everyone proceeds according to their Nature. -Rumi
Bike friendly Portland will allow us to be car-free.
The transit is also so much better than Columbus.

So my family has been doing lots of thinking lately. And we have made some major decisions. We moved to Ohio because it was good for our small family to be near extended family and a support network. We moved here because it was cheaper than our beloved Bay Area and we needed to regroup and get back on our feet financially. But it is NOT home. We have met amazing people here, and Columbus is pretty neat. It just doesn't fit all our needs.

So, here's our plan:
My partner is currently getting out of student loan default. Ohio, with its cheap cost of living is allowing us to do that. He will be able to return to school very soon and will be getting degrees all the way to PhD (to be a therapist, among other things). He will make a great therapist.

I love being near water. Not only does Portland have
the river, it also is an hour from my beloved ocean.

I am in grad school and soon will be switching tracks radically. I have been in seminary part time since 2009 and have decided it is time to move on. I gotten some great things out of SKSM, but it is not the path for me. After serving a UU congregation and finding out first hand what it is like, I have decided this is not what I want to do with the rest of my life.

I have been a healer in between other gigs for quite some time. I went to herb school (and continue a lifetime of that herbal education on my own), and am a Reiki master. I have found the call to heal to be steady and patient in the background- all while I tried on many other hats. I have decided to switch schools and prospective careers. In the fall, I will be attending a master's program in acupuncture and TCM. I will get certified and licensed and start to practice while my partner continues on with his school.


We have also decided that after my partner gets his BA and I get my acupuncture MA, we are moving... again. We have decided to move to Portland, Oregon. We have amazing friends there, it is more affordable than the Bay Area, and still has many of the things we love about Oakland, CA. It is beautiful, progressive, and clean. It is close to the radical faerie sanctuary that is near and dear to our hearts. It's a day's journey to see the Bay if we so desire. It is near some fantastic Witches we know. It is also charming in its own right- I have been several times and we have many friends there that tell us- "Come here! It is home!"

It is in Portland that we will settle, raise bees, and homestead further. It is in Portland that I will heal my community through Reiki, herbalism, and acupuncture. We just have to bide our time here a while longer.

Portland is weird enough for us. We need more weird.

So thank you, Ohio. You are good to us, allowing us to regroup and revel in family, good friends and interests, and a decent standard of living while we are here. We got to meet amazing people, and I picked up a student of the Craft while here who needed me. Don't think we are not appreciative of you, Ohio! We know what a struggle life could be- we had that constant struggle in California. While we are still considered "poor" on paper, Ohio is relatively easy and we are grateful for a few years of ease, particularly while Rowan is in these critical developmental years. We get to spend lots of quality time with him now, and that is such a gift.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Friday, March 1, 2013

Ask Me Anything: Lucifer

In this semi-regular feature on Witch Mom, I answer select questions from readers. If you would also like to ask a question, just go to the "About/Contact" page. It could be about The Craft, parenting, pop culture, multi-religious education, healing, homeschooling, or whatever! I cannot promise to answer each one, but I will read them!

A reader asks about Lucifer, as I mention that god in a previous post as "someone that I work with".

They ask, "Lucifer, the Lord of Light – I’ve been running into printed snippets since 1984 that Lucifer may not be as Christians claim him to be.

The first time was in (a letter to the editor about an )article in 1984 about the writer’s experience with the Findhorn Institute in Scotland. Findhorn is famous for its success with trees and plants using personal communing and cooperation with plant energy and devas. That reader wrote that Findhorn has some relations with a LUCIS group, which he said is about Lucifer, the Angel of Light. 

I was intrigued. Lucifer may not be as he is painted as? There were other teasers across the years, but as those were the years before Google, I had no way to follow up the leads. At the Diliman campus of the University of the Philippines, where I went to college, the scanty research I did painted him as frightening—in the Christian way.
Now, here you are saying that you work with Lucifer. I trust you, Lillitu. I know you will never follow anyone or anything evil. So, I am asking you, who is he really? I had always read that witches don’t recognize Lucifer or Satan as he’s a Judeo-Christian character. Now, here you are ... working with Lucifer. I just want to understand…and I assure you I am not in a ‘pitchfork-and-torch-carrying mode’.

Can (you) answer ... who he really is, is he really Fallen or a Prometheus, what does he ask of his followers, why do people follow him, how do you know he is really good or to be trusted?"

If you ask me, this is hawt.
Well, this is a big kettle of fish and quite a lot to tackle in one blog post! But I will do my best to talk about who Lucifer is, what is "evil", and why people work with him.

There are many cultures across the globe that talk about a Luciferian character- not all religions demonize the role of The Light-Bringer. Think of the qualities we ascribe often to light- illumination, knowledge, happiness. That is no accident. Let's start with the Judeo-Christian myth of Lucifer as a common place where we can all start:

Isaiah 13 and 14 are pretty heady stuff. God (let's call him Yahweh) is having a hissy fit over Babylon. His rant, given to Isaiah in prophetic dream is pretty horrifying:
6 Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    it will come like destruction from the Almighty.[a]
7 Because of this, all hands will go limp,
    every man’s heart will melt.
8 Terror will seize them,
    pain and anguish will grip them;
    they will writhe like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at each other,
    their faces aflame.
9 See, the day of the Lord is coming
    —a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—
to make the land desolate
    and destroy the sinners within it.
10 The stars of heaven and their constellations
    will not show their light.
The rising sun will be darkened
    and the moon will not give its light.
11 I will punish the world for its evil,
    the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
    and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
12 I will make people scarcer than pure gold,
    more rare than the gold of Ophir.
13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble;
    and the earth will shake from its place
at the wrath of the Lord Almighty,
    in the day of his burning anger.
14 Like a hunted gazelle,
Suffering for humanity.
    like sheep without a shepherd,
they will all return to their own people,
    they will flee to their native land.
15 Whoever is captured will be thrust through;
    all who are caught will fall by the sword.
16 Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes;
    their houses will be looted and their wives ravished.
17 See, I will stir up against them the Medes,
    who do not care for silver
    and have no delight in gold.
18 Their bows will strike down the young men;
    they will have no mercy on infants,
    nor will they look with compassion on children.
19 Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms,
    the pride and glory of the Babylonians,[b]
will be overthrown by God
    like Sodom and Gomorrah.

So- to be clear- when Yahweh is angry, he's entitled to kill babies, rape women, and destroy cities. But Lucifer (who ostensibly stands up to this onslaught- since his "disobedience" and punishment is meted out immediately after god's ranting in the very next verses), is the "bad guy"? Here's the text where Yahweh takes Lucifer to task:
12 How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
13 You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.[b]
14 I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”
15 But you are brought down to the realm of the dead,
    to the depths of the pit.
16 Those who see you stare at you,
    they ponder your fate:
“Is this the man who shook the earth
    and made kingdoms tremble,
17 the man who made the world a wilderness,
    who overthrew its cities
    and would not let his captives go home?”
18 All the kings of the nations lie in state,
    each in his own tomb.
19 But you are cast out of your tomb
    like a rejected branch;
you are covered with the slain,
    with those pierced by the sword,
    those who descend to the stones of the pit.
Like a corpse trampled underfoot,
20     you will not join them in burial,
for you have destroyed your land
    and killed your people.
Let the offspring of the wicked
    never be mentioned again.
21 Prepare a place to slaughter his children
    for the sins of their ancestors;
they are not to rise to inherit the land
    and cover the earth with their cities.

The first part of this passage reads like a jealous and petulant god getting angry that someone else has gained a following. "Oh, you think you're hot shit, don'tcha Morningstar? Well, I am gonna fuck you up!"

Remember, Yahweh is the same god who declared as a commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." Given how many gods are actually out there, this seems a little selfish and petty to me. I have always thought that if a god (or an entire religion, for that matter) has merit, it will draw people without media campaigns, wars, missionary work, or mandates. The god in the books of the bible sounds like a bully to me.

I personally believe that when Lucifer was cast out of heaven with some of this angelic peers, he was merely ousted for being an upstart. For caring more for humanity that its (alleged) creator*. The later stuff about Lucifer killing a whole lot of people? I don't buy it. But know what I do buy? That Yahweh in these passages is a real jerk. Killing someone's offspring in perpetuity for a grudge you cannot let go? That kinda makes you a jerk.

I think it is important to remind people here that "History is written by the winners." This includes religious history. Christians and other monotheistic Abrahamic religions are the clear winners at this stage of the game. Through conversion, conquest, and genocide there are more of them- which gives them power to define other people's gods, religions, cultures, history, and actions.

You have to look at a lot of sources if you want to really understand any one deity. Especially one as misunderstood as Lucifer, also known in other cultures as Prometheus and Tawuzi Melek.
If you start with the Christian texts, you get an insurrection in heaven, where some powerful angels start a revolt, led by Lucifer. He is cast down and left to die, but some went with him.

It is said that Lucifer loved humanity so much that he chose people over Yahweh. He came to earth and gave gifts to help us thrive: fire, science, adornment, all of these things and more. Yahweh was pissed about it, frankly (remember, this is the same god who lied to Adam and Eve, telling them if they ate a certain fruit they would die- when in reality, it gave them knowledge and self awareness, making them as gods). Then he punished his playthings by casting them out of paradise for disobedience. So Lucifer being cast out is not a new scenario for this chest-thumper, calling himself "God". The reason the bible has Yahweh posturing a lot about "thou shalt have no other gods before me" is that he knows he isn't the nicest or prettiest one and he is petty and jealous that others get any attention at all.

Now if you combine other stories of him from non-Christian cultures, you see other facets to this being: a the Lord of Light, the morning star (Venus in daytime), first offspring and consort to God Herself, the fallen angel who put out the fires of hell to spare humanity torment, The good adversary (who challenges us to become better people), and father to a race of Witches. In my tradition, He is the God of this World.

Hope that helps. Stay tuned for part two- on evil!

* As most of you know, I do not believe that a solely male god created the universe.